Melvin Frazier needed five shots during garbage time on Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center before he converted a lay-up in the final minute against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Just by stepping on the court, though, he trashed the view that second-round picks cannot make it in the NBA.
Frazier, a 6-foot-6 Higgins High alum and Tulane product whom the Orlando Magic drafted No. 35 overall in June, has played in three consecutive games since the Magic dealt small forward Jonathan Simmons to Philadelphia last week.
Frazier scored his first NBA basket on Sunday in Atlanta, hitting all three of his shots against the Hawks in one of his first chances to display the skills that made him a breakout star at Tulane last season. He split time between Orlando and its G League affiliate in nearby Lakeland, Florida for the first half of the season, getting in three games for the Magic.
No Tulane player had participated in an NBA regular-season contest since Linton Johnson in 2009-09 at the end of a nondescript six-year career with seven teams. Frazier, who left the Green Wave after averaging 15.9 points and 5.6 rebounds as a junior, exhibits much more potential.
“It’s been going good,” he said before the surging Magic blew out the Pelicans 118-88 for their fourth consecutive victory. “I’m just watching the people in front of me and learning a lot, seeing what to do and what not to do.”
Although Frazier has a long way to go, Orlando coach Steve Clifford likes his makeup.
“He’s very athletic, and he’s got a toughness about him,” Clifford said. “It’s much more difficult now to find just tough guys who compete every night, and he’s that. I’m optimistic about his future. He’s done a good job.”
He exhibited the same toughness at Tulane, morphing from a sophomore with little polish into a poised, skilled performer. He shooting percentage rocketed from .438 to .556, the second highest in the American Athletic Conference to teammate Samir Sehic. On 3s, he improved to 38.5 percent from 26.4 percent.
“He’s a great story for us in terms of his improvement in the two years he was with us (as a staff),” coach Mike Dunleavy said. “His overall offense improved a great deal, and his calling card is his defensive ability to disrupt plays with steals and on-ball pressure. We’re excited about Mel going forward.”
Frazier is working with a shooting coach to make his 3-point shot NBA worthy. The rest of his adjustment to NBA life has gone smoothly.
“I haven’t had a big surprise yet,” he said. “It’s what I thought it would be. Everything really is the same, but we have more time in a day. We are out of the gym by 12 o’clock. We have more free time now.”
Proximity allowed Frazier to practice with Orlando and play with Lakeland (an hour away) earlier this year, learning from both roles. He averaged 12.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 13 G League games, shooting 45 percent.
He embraces the grind.
“That’s just in me where I come from,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t have that. It It’s something you can’t teach. You gotta have that in you.”
Tulane (4-18, 0-10 AAC), which hosts Tulsa (14-10, 0-7) on Thursday night at 6 p.m., has collapsed without him. Several of his former teammates were at the Smoothie King Center on Tuesday to watch him, including Sehic, who may be affected more than anyone.
Sehic shot 57.2 percent last year playing alongside Frazier and Cameron Reynolds, who is averaging 15.8 points for the Stockton Kings in the G League.
This year, Sehic is shooting 41.6 percent.
“Defenders would have to go to Mel or Cam when they would beat somebody, and he (Sehic) got a chance to clean that up,” Dunleavy said. “He definitely benefited from the play of both players.”
Frazier shrugged when asked if he were surprised by Tulane’s struggles.
“They are rebuilding,” he said. “They are young. You just have to come together and keep working and don’t let it get to you. It’s a process. It isn’t going to happen overnight.”
Tulane will continue to be shorthanded. Dunleavy said starting point guard Ray Ona Embo, who has not played all year due to patellar tendinitis, starting center Buay Koka, who has missed six games with a fractured finger, and reserve forward Bul Ajang, out with a knee issue for six games, would miss the rest of the season. … Tulsa is 0-5 in AAC road games, losing four by double digits.